Photo/IllutrationA notice on a desk reads, “I am teleworking now,” in the Personnel Division of the Tokyo metropolitan government’s General Affairs Bureau in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward on July 24. (Toshiyuki Hayashi)

A questionnaire 37 years ago asked this question: “Given recent advances in videophone and facsimile technologies, ‘zaitaku kinmu’ (working from home rather than commuting to the office) is expected to become more widespread in the near future. Is this something you look forward to?”

The answer picked by the largest number of respondents--40 percent--was, “I don’t look forward to it if the five-day work week is guaranteed.”

A newspaper article from the time noted that this answer reflected people’s aversion to the idea of bringing work home, and that they would rather put up with the grueling daily commute than to allow the blurring of the line that separates work and home.

On the other hand, 31 percent of respondents welcomed zaitaku kinmu, saying they looked forward to working from home for half the week.

And now, in this digital era of the Internet, personal computers and smartphones, how far has the situation changed since then?

There definitely has been no dramatic increase in the number of company employees working from home.

The only clear change from 37 years ago is that zaitaku kinmu is now referred to as “telework,” which essentially denotes employees working anywhere but in the office of their company or organization.

The government is now pushing this work style as a solution for people who have to care for small children or elderly family members at home.

In the greater Tokyo metropolitan area, telework is expected to ease the huge congestion projected for the duration of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next year.

Organizations and businesses are now “rehearsing” this system. When I call someone to request an interview, I am sometimes told the person is teleworking and not in.

This experience may become more frequent during the Olympics.

But the question is: Will telework become established beyond the Olympics?

I wrote in this column a while ago that many New York City commuters wear sneakers to work because they had been forced to trek many blocks during the prolonged New York City subway and bus strike of 1980. The experience taught them to wear comfortable shoes.

The Tokyo Games may also trigger a change that will not be ephemeral.

Changes are occurring rapidly in people’s lifestyles as well as how they work.

Personally, I think it would be nice if working parents of both sexes could one day tell their bosses as a matter of course, “I’m teleworking today so I can be home when my kids come home from school.”

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 31

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.